I just sat through a presentation by a lawyer/IT guy (apparently, these two professions can coexist) from our state's DA's office. He was a great presenter and the dialog that resulted was very informative. Good stuff, right? However, as he spoke it became abundantly clear that the policies from state and federal levels he was describing were completely at odds with modern, technology-infused educational philosophy.
Email remains an important business tool, but most students view it as largely irrelevant. Why settle for email when rich social media and synchronous chat tools work so well, right? This point of view is certainly reflected in many newer companies and startups; the Socialwok application for Google Apps similarly embraces social tools. I know this isn't something that a lot of administrators, parents, or school committee members want to hear. There are plenty of districts where even providing email to students makes people uncomfortable, let alone moving to a more social, collaborative environment.
A look at the National Educational Technology plan, however, makes it clear that an approach leveraging social tools and 24-7 learning environments will not only be encouraged, but required:
Our model of an infrastructure for learning is always on, available to students, educators, and administrators regardless of their location or the time of day. It supports not just access to information, but access to people and participation in online learning communities. It offers a platform on which developers can build and tailor applications
So back to conference: The lawyer was particularly concerned with e-discovery requirements, policies surrounding records retention, and policies relating to information and communication access. Want to take work home on a flash drive? It better be a school-owned drive and it better only have school information on it. Want to use a social tool for students and teachers to interact? Well can you archive it? If you can't, you better not do it. Want to use cell phones or text messages in new ways to communicate and collaborate? Well, you can't archive a text message, so you better shut down text services on school phones and prohibit the use of personal cell phones for school business or e-learning opportunities.
You know what this leaves? It leaves email, which is the one thing we can reasonably archive. Even Google Docs don't qualify unless we want to print out every revision. The lawyer acknowledged the difficult decisions and choices, but didn't provide an out. The law is the law and needs to drive our policies.
Nonsense, I say. Protect your kids from bad stuff while they're on your network. Educate staff and students about appropriate interactions on the internet. Let them know about intellectual property and make sure they understand that sexting is a bad idea. These are reasonable things for us to do.
However, to squelch student collaboration and anytime student-teacher interaction is what should really be the crime. I'll be taking the National Ed Tech Plan and running with it. I'll do my due diligence in terms of email and I'll educate till the cows come home. I will not prevent my teachers from creating rich online environments where students can continue to contribute, interact, create, collaborate, get help, or otherwise learn. That is, after all, why we bother running schools.